Another in the reliably sporadic series of yuletide Celebritology posts on the Unsung Heroes of Holiday Pop Culture.
Despite being a cranky shut-in, a burglar and a liar, the Grinch tends to dominate all the attention in “Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Why? For starters, because the Grinch’s name is in the title and he’s the protagonist of the story. Also because he redeems himself in the final five minutes of this 1966 half-hour animated classic, which reairs tomorrow and Thursday on Cartoon Network and Christmas night on ABC.
Yes, Mr. Anti-Whos-Down-in-Whoville — the creature whom most of us would not touch with a 39 1/2-foot pole — does what so many heroes in enduring holiday stories do: they become better people by finally allowing the Christmas spirit to teach them kindness.
But there is another character in “The Grinch” who already knows what it means to be loyal and kind, who willingly wears a tree branch on his head without one whimper of complaint and who already recognizes that Christmas day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands (or paws) to clasp.
That character, of course, is Max the dog.
How did the Grinch become Max’s master? Neither the Chuck Jones holiday special nor the book ever explain this. It seems unlikely that the bloated old troll would have adopted him from a shelter. It seems equally implausible that Max was a stray that just happened to wander all the way up to the Grinch’s hermit lair overlooking Whoville, a place, by the way, in desperate need of an extreme home makeover.
However it happened, one thing is clear: Max puts up with some serious abuse.
By my estimation, during the roughly 26-minute runtime of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Max endures the following:
—The wearing of uncomfortable antler-esque head gear that strips him of his own animal identity, which will undoubtedly result in long-term dog/reindeer confusion. (That’s a real psychological condition. Look it up.)
—Being a victim of animal abuse as well as bullying, a situation that involves merciless whipping, dragging a sleigh that nearly runs him over on several occasions and getting squashed by packages lobbed from the tops of Who houses.
—Serving as an unwitting accomplice in several of the Grinch’s crimes, which include but are not limited to: breaking and entering; burglary; trespassing; violating a restraining order that requires the Grinch to remain at least 25 feet away from Cindy Lou Who at all times; and the theft of Santa Claus’s and Dasher’s (or maybe Dancer’s?) identities.
—Having to hang out with the Grinch, who, as established by the show’s theme song, stinks in every conceivable verb tense. (Stink, stank and stunk.)
But Max handles it all with good cheer because Max is a dog — possibly a beagle, maybe just a mutt, we’re still not sure — with spunk and grace. Do you think a cat would put up with all this? Hell no. If the Grinch were the equivalent of a cat-lady shut-in, this show would be five minutes long and would consist of the Grinch trying to convince his mewing diva to wear reindeer antlers until he finally gave up and decided to lob snowballs at the Whos instead.
The good news for Max is that the Grinch does transform, so much so that he carves the very first, freshest slice of roast beast for his sweet, ridiculously tolerant pup. And since the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, we have to assume that life for Max also got gentler, warmer and better.
We like to think so. After all, Max deserves that. As a matter of fact, he just might deserve it even more than the Grinch.